Four Bundesliga clubs made it into the semi-finals of the DFB Cup: Hertha BSC Berlin will meet Borussia Dortmund while FC Bayern Munich play against Werder Bremen. In the German capital in particular the competition electrifies fans, players and officials.
After the first lot was drawn jubilation erupted in Berlin, and it became even stronger after the second. The draw made by national handball hero Andreas Wolff saw two wishes come true for Hertha Berlin: a home match and an encounter with a team other than Bayern Munich. Thus the road for the Berliners can lead via Berlin -- to Berlin. They only need to beat Borussia Dortmund (3-1 win in Stuttgart) at home to make their great dream come true, and reach the Cup final on home soil for the very first time. Coach Pal Dardai left no doubt about the great importance of the DFB Cup competition for the Berliners: “The final at home is more important to me than the Champions League”. In the second fixture in Munich, FC Bayern (3-0 in Bochum) and Werder Bremen (3-1 at Bayer 04 Leverkusen) will play for a final appearance. The semi-finals have been scheduled for April 19 and 20.
Hertha had already excelled with their 3-2 victory at the impressive second-division club Heidenheim. The Berlin club qualified for the semi-final for the first time since the final was allocated to the capital in 1985. Hertha BSC reached their most recent DFB Cup semi-finals in 1981 and lost 1-0 to Eintracht Frankfurt. There is one exception, however. The now legendary Hertha amateur team, centred around eventual World Cup silver medallist Carsten Ramelow, stormed into the 1993 final. The amateurs, also known as Hertha II, were then beaten 1-0 by a goal from Ulf Kirsten and Bayer Leverkusen at the Olympic Stadium. It is a fact that the 124-year-old club Hertha BSC Berlin has never won the DFB Cup, held since 1935.
But the current squad boast a player who has at least experienced a final – Vedad Ibisevic, who ensured the semi-final with his two goals at Heidenheim. When he played with VfB Stuttgart he lost 3-2 to Bayern Munich in 2013. The final was a formative and motivating event despite the defeat: “It was a unique experience. It is worth fighting for”, he told his team-mates.
The DFB Cup is equally important to Berlin’s opponents Dortmund. Due to the deficit in the Bundesliga, it means coach Thomas Tuchel has the additional opportunity, along with the Europa League, to win a title in his first year at the helm. So he was appropriately happy after the convincing 3-1 victory at strengthened VfB Stuttgart, completed by the outstanding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a goal and two assists. “I am wholeheartedly content. We performed convincingly over 90 minutes against very strong opponents and under difficult conditions. It was a perfect game with a perfect result for us”.
Rare praise for his team, after a match interrupted after 18 minutes and 21 seconds, when Dortmund fans threw a vast number of tennis balls onto the pitch in protest at the increase in ticket prices. Both clubs are now facing a monetary penalty.
In the matches between Leverkusen and Bremen, as well as between Bochum and Bayern, only players protested. Both referees and their decisions over penalties and red cards brought indignation. Bayer Leverkusen’s Wendell was sent off after fouling Fin Bartels in the 41st minute; Bochum’s Jan Simunek suffered the same penalty after 43 minutes for an offence against Arjen Robben. After a gala performance by Robert Lewandoski (two goals), Bochum’s Dutch coach Gertjan Verbeek was not amused with his fellow-countryman Robben: “To me it was a dive. There might have been slight contact, but Robben looked for the leg. He is a Dutchman so we know about Robben. It certainly wasn’t a red card. Though there was contact, it wasn’t a foul. After all, football is still a contact sport. He let himself fall, and that’s a dive and a free kick for the other side”.
In Leverkusen disappointment at their own performance outweighed the frustration about the double penalty. Sports director Rudi Voeller was clear: “The disappointment is really great. I am usually very censorious with the referees, but this time it wasn’t them. We simply didn’t play well and were possibly too confident after the 1-0 lead, when we played too sedately. We missed it in the first half. Werder then managed the game skilfully“.
So Werder now visit Munich to try to improve a mediocre season. Claudio Pizarro, who scored to make it 2-1 in Leverkusen, wants to go to Berlin again at the age of 37: “We are very happy. Everything went as we intended. We are still in the Cup competition. As a team we are a unit”.